When the 2017-18 wrestling season started back in November, Taylor Venz, Nebraska’s 184-pound starter, believed he could beat most of the guys in his weight class—even though he was just a redshirt freshman.
“I just went out there expecting to beat every guy that I wrestled,” Venz said.
It didn’t take him long to prove he could do just that.
Starting the season unranked, Venz posted a 12-1 record in the first month of competition. Four of those victories were against opponents inside the top 15 of the InterMat rankings. His only loss was to No. 2 Myles Martin of Ohio State, who was an NCAA Champion in 2016.
Not only was Venz beating some of the best wrestlers in his weight class, he was winning in dominant fashion.
His first 10 wins during that stretch were by way of bonus points, including seven by pin fall. Venz’ quickest pins came in the first and second rounds of the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 1.
The Farmington, Minnesota, native opened the tournament by pinning Joshua Murphy of Drexel in 0:14 and Andrew Psomas of Columbia in just 0:12.
Following a third-place finish at the Cliff Keen Invite, Venz jumped all the way to No. 6 in his weight class.
At the time, Venz wasn’t surprised he was winning his matches, however, he didn’t expect to have that level of success right away.
Now, with the dual season complete, Venz isn’t surprised by any of it.
“After I wrestled, I realized that I’m better than most of those guys,” Venz said in an interview last week. “I didn’t expect it, but looking back, it makes sense.”
As the Huskers battled through the dual season during the past nine weeks, Venz’ blistering start cooled, but the winning didn’t stop.
Two of his eight wins after the Cliff Keen Invite came against ranked foes, including a 12-7 decision against No. 9 Ricky Robertson of Wisconsin on Feb. 9.
His four losses in the back half of the season were all against ranked opponents, including two positioned in the top five.
Venz credits his success this season to the training he put in during his redshirt year and in the summer.
“I just went out there with a good mindset and I wrestled to the best of my ability,” he said. “I think having a good mindset and approach to it, along with the training that I’ve had here, is what allowed me to have success.”
Venz said he has faced a number of challenges throughout his first year in the starting lineup, with one of those being the length of the NCAA season, which lasts a full five months from November to March.
During this grueling stretch, he’s adapted.
“My mindset kind of changed after the first part of the season,” Venz said. “Being ranked high, guys knew who I was, and they scouted me. So, I just had to make adjustment in my mental game and in wrestling. My coaches have helped work me through that, and the season’s not done yet.”
Nebraska capped off the dual season with a 23-14 victory against Stanford in California last Friday. With that, Venz and the rest of Huskers’ focus now turns to the postseason, specifically the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Venz will more than likely face plenty of ranked wrestlers in both of those tournaments. Six of the nation’s top 10 wrestlers at 184 pounds, including Venz, are from the Big Ten Conference.
For Venz, the chance to wrestle tough competition is a thrill.
“I just get excited, because it’s another opportunity to display how hard I’ve been working, and just to have fun and go beat another guy,” Venz said. “It’s fun to win, but it’s just fun to wrestle, and I really enjoy it.”
Venz said he is at his best when he wrestles hard through the entire match. If he does that and focuses less on expectations or results, he knows he’s better than most guys in the country.
With 13 bonus-point wins so far this season, he leads all Nebraska starters. Venz said he’s always had that full-throttle style.
“I’ve always been taught by my coaches at a young age to always score more points no matter what,” Venz said. “I’ve never been the type of wrestler to try and get one takedown and hang onto a win.”
In the postseason, bonus-points are what separate one team from another when it comes to team scores, and Venz is aware of that.
The postseason tournaments are less than two weeks away and Venz knows he needs to score as many points as possible in his matches, just as he did during his dominant stretch earlier this season.